Suspense: Keep Your Reader Reading

Use setting details to create suspense. Photo by KoolShooters on

Readers, especially young readers, have a lot of distractions. They’ve got homework. They’ve got side-hustles like scouts and sports and music lessons. They’ve got pesky adults telling them to do their homework, work on the requirements for a merit badge, or practice their instrument.

So if you want them to keep reading, you have to hook them. One of the best ways to do this is with suspense. What do I mean by suspense? That feeling of excitement or uncertainty that keeps the reader turning pages. They need to find out what is going to happen! Here are six ways you can create suspense.


Set up a conflict. Start with what your character wants. Don’t make it easy. Make it something uncertain, something they have to struggle for. If someone else wants that same thing but there can be only one? Instant conflict.

You can have conflicts between characters. You can have conflict between nature and a character struggling to survive. Think of any story where someone is trying to survive a shipwreck or a blizzard. You can also have conflict within the character. Perhaps your character has a flaw (she can’t read) but she wants to do well in school.

High Stakes

The higher the stakes in any conflict the higher the suspense. So if your character wants a mint but the package is empty? Who cares. But if your character wants a mint because mints are a security blanket that reminds her of her grandmother? That’s something we can care about!

Raise the stakes again and again throughout the story. Torment your characters.


Pacing is another way to create suspense. When things are moving quickly, readers are on the edge of their seats. Something is coming! They just know it.

But you also have to slow the pace down every once in a while. If you don’t, you are going to wear your reader out.


Another way to raise suspense is by creating a suspensful atmosphere. Think about all the creepy movie scenes that take place in the dark. Or there might be heavy fog or gloom.

Dark rooms, heavy drapes, a shabby furniture can all contribute to atmosphere. Don’t forget to add a jumpy or worried character just in case your reader is slow to catch on!

Red Herrings

Another way to create suspense is with a red herring. A red herring is a false, misleading clue. A clue that points to the best friend or favorite teacher is going to create suspense. Why? Because no one wants to believe ill of this person.

Last night, I read the opening chapters in a mystery. The detective is an actual detective as in a police detective. Her partner is retiring next month. “Oh, no! The partner is oing to die.” I was sure of it. But it didn’t happen. This author defied the trope but she used it to create suspense.

Cliff Hanger

Last but not least is the cliffhanger. A cliffhanger is a chapter ending that leaves the character in danger with the reader wondering what will happen next. Perhaps the character is snooping in a teacher’s desk and hear’s the teacher at the door.

End the chapter and leave the reader in suspense. That’s a cliffhanger.

Use one of these techniques or all of them to create suspense in your story. Picture books through young adult novels, given the right story, can all benefit from suspense.